Conventionally understood, campaign finance reform is a matter of public regulation. Reformers believe that, without adequate government intervention, wealthy individuals and entities are destined to exert outsized influence over elections and governance. Propelled by that belief, they have spent decades advocating regulatory fixes, with relatively little to show for it. Many existing regulations are watered down and easy to circumvent. Efforts to bolster them have repeatedly hit doctrinal and political roadblocks - obstacles that are more formidable today than ever before.
This article seeks to shift campaign finance discourse toward private ordering. Because scholars and reformers have long focused on public regulation, they have largely overlooked possible private correctives. The article maps that uncharted terrain, revealing an array of extra-legal mechanisms that at least somewhat constrain money’s electoral clout. This survey suggests that numerous private actors have incentives and capacities to implement additional extra-legal reform. The article then sketches several potential private interventions, and it assesses the interplay between public regulation and private reform. Private reform is no silver bullet, but to ignore private ordering even as public regulation flounders makes little sense. Especially given the significant constraints on public intervention, it is vital for campaign finance scholars and reformers to look beyond the law.